Merlin, baby squirrels and eagles, highlights of recent wildlife watch

A week ago, if someone were to ask me, “What’s a merlin?” I’d probably reply, “A famous wizard.” But they’d probably be referring to the bird — a small falcon that is fairly common to the state of Maine, and which spied for the first time the other day.

It was perched high in a tall pine tree in Hancock, looking down at us.

merlin070414-3“What’s that?” I asked my friend Sharon, pointing up to the merlin.

“Maybe a Cooper’s hawk?”

At such a distance, it was a good guess. It wasn’t until we looked at our photos later that we recognized it as a merlin, a small but powerful falcon known for its fierce attacks on small songbirds and shorebirds.

Medieval falconers called them “lady hawks,” and noblewomen used them to hunt sky larks, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

A merlin flying in Hancock in July 2014.

A merlin flying in Hancock in July 2014.

Like Cooper’s hawks, merlins have short, curved beaks and beautiful patterning of brown, gray and white on their feathers. As we approached the tree, it took flight, showing off the light and dark bands on its wing and tail feathers. It was fairly high up, so the image I captured with my 300mm lens isn’t sharp at all (I’m now seriously contemplating investing in a 400mm lens!) … but you get the idea.

As the merlin disappeared, we continued walking along the road, following a stream where bald eagles had been reported fishing. It was a sunny, hot July day, and we were thankful for the breeze that cooled us off and scattered the hordes of mosquitos, black flies and no-see-ums.

We did manage to find some bald eagles — two of them, perched high in an evergreen beside the stream. Again, my lens wasn’t adequate to capture any detail at such a distance, but I took some photos anyway.

Then we traveled to Tidal Falls Preserve, a 4.2-acre preserve overlooking the reversing falls on the Taunton River in Hancock. It’s a beautiful spot for picnicking and wildlife watching. There, we saw another adult bald eagle, it’s white head standing out against the dark background of the evergreen it was perched in across the water.

Also at the preserve, we saw a group of eider ducks, cormorants and sea gulls. And while leaning over the railing by the water, I looked down to see a large jellyfish. It moved rather sluggishly in the water, so it very well may have been dead. It was hard to tell. We also saw a seal, but only from a distance, though we did ask for him to come closer to shore and visit with us.

And while driving around, we came across two other types of wildlife. I slowed to a stop when Sharon pointed out a partridge on the side of the road. I was able to shoot one photo as it sprinted across the road. (I never realized they had such long necks!) And I stopped the car again when I spied three tiny red squirrels that appeared to be foraging on the shoulder of the road. I assume they were young squirrels, but I’m no expert. They were awfully cute, though.

All in all, a good adventure. I didn’t capture any spectacular wildlife photos, but we certainly ran into a variety of critters.


Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at